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Identity politics? 身份政治

中国日报网 2021-06-01 14:06


Reader question:

Please explain “identity politics”.

My comments:

As name suggests, identity politics is a type of politics that puts emphasis on identity rather than politics.

Or, as dictionaries explain, identity politics involves people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.

Identity, of course, refers to who you are, what you are. Politics, on the other hand, refers to your political inclinations, what political platforms you support.

For example, if you are an African American, and you support the Black Lives Matter movement solely based on the fact that you’re black, then you’re involved in identity politics.

Or, if you are a woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment and you support the Me Too movement solely on the strength of that fact, then you’re involved in identity politics.

Both are lofty causes to support, though. There’s no question about that. By using these two examples, I’m just helping you to understand the difference between identity politics and broad-based politics.

Broad-based politics?

Yeah, such as equality for all, regardless of race, religion, economic status.

And, for another example, equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender and race.

Put another way, identity politics is politics that you identify with easily. It’s closer to home. It concerns you personally or more directly.

But identity politics has its drawbacks, as every brand of politics does. Identity politics may rile up a special group of people, but this group may be small. People who cannot identify with this particular brand of politics may find it hard to lend support. They may even find it offensive.

Well, for better or worse, as they say. And, as they say, politics being politics, it’s just hard to say.

So, without saying anything further, let’s move onto media examples of how identity politics works, or fails to work:

1. For centuries, American politics has had a sordid and complex history, but some argue that the current political climate and recent racial tensions that many are witnessing are almost reminiscent of the Jim Crow south. There’s a chilling feeling about the state of race relations in the U.S. and some are saying that racial and cultural differences are being used as a strategic and divisive tool for political gain. Specifically, that a spike in white identity and that the Trump administration are at the center of the striking racial tensions in the U.S. The country feels almost light years away from the, “yes we can” chants that once echoed throughout auditoriums and homes across the country during the Obama administration. At that time, for some, it felt as though the country was making great strides toward addressing challenges with racism and discrimination. After all, a Black man was leading the free nation. That alone had to count for something. Yet, only four years later the country appears to still be wrestling with the deathly consequences of systemic racism and structural oppression.

In July, the Los Angeles Times called out President Donald Trump for the current tumultuous state of race relations in America and accused him of using purposefully racially and culturally divisive and inflammatory language to galvanize his base. “Seemingly every time President Trump speaks about race or what it means to be an American, he sparks outrage.” Some scholars argue that Trump panders to white Americans who have historically benefitted from racial privilege and are currently responding to a changing, more diverse, and global America that they fear might challenge the societal advantages to which they have explicitly and implicitly become accustomed. Some of these responses express fear and others express feelings of hatred and strong disdain toward people of color and many argue that Trump only adds fuel to the fire.

The president’s language has been described as sometimes “combative” and “extreme”— inaccurately portraying Black Lives Matter activists as determined to end America, and retweeting a video showing one of his supporters shouting “white power.” Yet, he adamantly denies that he is encouraging racial hatred. Spencer Critchley, former Communications consultant for Barak Obama says this disconnect is fueled by how Donald Trump and other white Americans view the country. They view America through a dramatically different lens than people of color. “They simply don’t see America as inherently unfair and racist,” Critchley said in the article with the Los Angeles Times. “They believe the U.S. possesses a distinct identity and noble traditions that must be fiercely defended, not challenged.” Critchley argues that many white Americans neglect to realize that their experience of America is largely based on them benefitting from racial privilege and those benefits have subsequently shaped their perspectives more favorably than people of color who have experienced various forms of dehumanization, structural oppression, and the devastating and generational impact of systemic racism. “They love the country too, but they’ve been tormented by it instead of embraced,” Critchley says of people of color in America.

Ashley Jardina, a white identity scholar and political scientist at Duke University recently wrote a book, “White Identity Politics,” in which she examines the increasing significance of white identity in the U.S. In her book, Jardina cites data from American National Election Studies surveys as well as her own research which found that about 40% of white Americans felt that their white identity is important to them and that this group partly overlaps with the group of white Americans who hold racist views. Additionally, Jardina’s study found that 38% of whites who value their white identity fall at or below the mean level of expressing feelings of racial resentment. “For those invested in racial equality, this outcome should be of little comfort,” Jardina writes, of white Americans declaring their identity, with or without explicit or implicit racial resentment. Jardina notes that in previous years when whites have been asked to share power and resources they have not expressed interest in “leveling the field; instead, they have expanded the scope of who is considered white, allowing the racial hierarchy to remain more firmly in place.”

Although there’s not a robust amount of research that examines spikes in levels of white identity according to changes in the country’s cultural climate, many argue that it has become clear that white identity and overall racial identity shapes how some white Americans currently view society and politics in America. Furthermore, that white identity is not always a consistent and overt driving force in the way that it’s being observed today. Although many argue that white supremacy and systemic racism have been an ongoing challenge in America since its inception and sit at the helm of the many racial injustices that people of color currently face, collective and overt assertions of white identity by individuals tend to lie dormant or present in much more covert ways until triggered. Some have compared this spike in white identity to moments in American history such as the civil rights movement. That is, white identity tends to spike during periods in American history when the dominant status of whites is being challenged.

- The Ugliness Of Racism, White Identity Politics And The Current Election, Forbes.com, October 14, 2020.

2. In 1980, a presidential candidate pledged to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court. “It is time for a woman to sit among our highest jurists,” said Ronald Reagan, and in 1981, he kept his promise by nominating Sandra Day O’Connor.

In 2008, John McCain made history by choosing the Republican Party’s first female vice presidential candidate. Announcing his choice of Sarah Palin, he said he was “especially proud to say in the week we celebrate the anniversary of women’s suffrage” that she was “a devoted wife and a mother of five.”

From the criticisms of Joe Biden’s choices for his Cabinet and other senior positions, you might think that Democrats had a monopoly on what is condemned as “identity politics” — selecting people because they represent specific groups (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender) rather than because of their qualifications. But both parties have made a point of highlighting their efforts to expand representation beyond white men.

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, President Donald Trump promised to appoint a woman to fill the vacancy, and nobody objected. At her confirmation hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, welcomed Amy Coney Barrett as “a fellow woman, a fellow mom, a fellow Midwesterner.”
But when Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate, he was accused of elevating someone underqualified for the job. It was alleged that he chose her only because she checked so many boxes, being Black, Asian American and female. One critic lamented that Biden had not “searched the entire adult population and determined she was the best person for the job.” Like that’s unusual.

Never mind that Harris had 16 years of experience in elective office at the local, state and federal level, or that she had enough political skills and substantive heft to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Never mind that among the credentials cited for the pathetically unprepared Palin was — I’m not making this up — that she knew “how to properly field-dress a moose.”

How many vice presidential candidates have been chosen strictly for their brains and experience? Age, religion and state of origin have all been regarded as reasonable criteria. Mike Pence’s chief asset was that he could appeal to an important constituency: white evangelical Christians. Palin was not the first who didn’t qualify purely on merit. Anyone remember Dan Quayle? Or Spiro Agnew?

As for the Cabinet, Biden would have to make a strenuous effort to find appointees less qualified than many of Trump’s. Rex Tillerson, picked for secretary of state, had no diplomatic background. Ditto for United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Barack Obama’s first energy secretary, Steven Chu, had a Nobel Prize in physics. Trump’s, Rick Perry, had a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Ben Carson, an African American neurosurgeon, was tapped to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development even though he had no expertise in housing, aside from living in it.

Doubts have been raised about Susan Rice, a Black woman chosen to head Biden’s Domestic Policy Council despite a career in foreign and security affairs. But Biden pointed out, accurately, that she “knows government inside and out” and “is among our nation’s most senior and experienced government leaders.” Not to mention that she worked with him in the White House and earned his confidence.

Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone insists that “among the public, if not in the press, most people care more about policy than ethnicity, more about competence than ticket-balancing.” Easy for a peevish white guy to say. But he shouldn’t fret. Biden’s appointees will be appreciably more competent than the people they replace.

It’s true that Biden has taken care to stock his administration with women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, a Native American and an openly gay man. But what’s wrong with including groups that have always been underrepresented?

Identity politics is often a euphemism for ‘shrill minority voices I don’t like,’” says Jonathan Blanks, a Black scholar at the centrist Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. “People experience America differently. Including them is valuable for understanding what is wrong and how it needs to be changed.”

Conservatives say they long for a time when such differences as race, sexual orientation and gender will be irrelevant. They fail to understand that it will happen only after diversity in leadership is so commonplace that it is barely noticed. When that happy day arrives, some people will owe Biden an apology.

- Column: What’s wrong with Biden’s ‘identity politics’?, ChicagoTribune.com, December 18, 2020.

3. Fox News host Tucker Carlson accused the Pentagon of caring more about hiring pregnant pilots than defending the United States. Sen. Ted Cruz said the left is trying to turn the military into “pansies.” And the Army was forced to disable comments on a series of new recruiting ads after criticism that the service has become too “woke.”

Republican lawmakers and right-wing personalities are increasingly criticizing military leaders over what they say is political bias against conservatives in the armed forces and the new Pentagon leadership’s “cancel culture” and focus on being “woke.”

For the most part, conservative critics have primarily aimed their fire at Defense Department leadership. But that’s not always the case. Former Trump aide turned right-wing radio and TV host Sebastian Gorka on Thursday launched a personal attack on an active-duty corporal featured in a new Army recruiting video discussing her childhood experience growing up with two moms.
“You are a disgrace to what it means to serve in the military at any rank,” Gorka said on Newsmax TV of the soldier, Cpl. Emma Malonelord, calling her out by name.

Republicans have a long history of touting their support for the armed forces, from featuring American flags and active-duty service members in campaign videos to advocating for higher defense spending in Congress. But the Pentagon’s recent diversity push has incensed conservatives, who accuse civilian and uniformed leaders of focusing on political correctness to the detriment of readiness.

Experts said conservatives are using the policy changes as a cudgel to attack Biden.

“Politicians like Senator Cruz are disgracefully trying to draw the military into culture wars that are terrible for cohesion in our military. Cohesion and commitment are what wins wars, and these attacks damage it,” said Kori Schake, the director of foreign and defense policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

However, she noted that the new Pentagon leadership “talking so much about social issues and so little about fighting and winning wars — the reason we actually have a military — leaves some room for politicians like Sen. Cruz.”


A spokesperson for Cruz, Erin Perrine, added that national security and the military are endangered when the troops “focus on anything else” besides winning wars.

“Sen. Cruz passionately supports the brave men and women of the United States military and has repeatedly expressed concerns that Democrat politicians, left wing bureaucrats, and the media are politicizing our armed forces to promote a fringe woke agenda based on identity politics,” Perrine said in a statement.

Heidi Urben, a retired Army colonel who specializes in civil-military relations, said Cruz’s claims are damaging to the military’s efforts to stay out of the political fray.

“I found Sen. Cruz’s follow-on tweet, where he tried to claim he wasn’t attacking the military, just as problematic as his original one, when he claimed that ‘Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn [the military] into pansies,’” said Urben, who now teaches at Georgetown University.

“By labeling the Army recruitment videos as ‘Dem videos,’ he is following a trend of politicians using the military as a partisan football — attacking the military when it’s perceived to be in opposition to their partisan stance and praising it when it appears to be a co-partisan,” she said. “Such comments aim to divide the military — a nonpartisan institution — and the public’s perception of its military.”

- Conservatives lash out at the military over ‘woke’ policies, Politico.com, May 21, 2021.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Reality check? 现实核查


Let them off the hook? 摆脱困境


A dog-eared phrase? 老旧的说法


Fair and square? 光明正大